The twins: Fibromyalgia/ PTSD

“After a traumatic experience, the human system of self-preservation seems to go onto permanent alert, as if the danger might return at any moment”, Judith Lewis Herman

In my book almost a decade ago, I wrote about Gulf War syndrome and the similarities between this condition and fibromyalgia. From the terms ‘shell shock’ and ‘Gulf War syndrome’ has emerged the contemporary ‘Post Traumatic Stress Disorder’  label.  We have now landed firmly on the relationship between these three conditions and fibromyalgia. Years and years of studying and researching on the topic of fibromyalgia has convinced me that PTSD and fibromyalgia are the same thing. There I’ve said it! And, finally others are saying it too. What do all those terms share in common?   How is it that PTSD and fibromyalgia are twined? Wars, abuse, crises, trauma of many sorts take their toll on us all, but it is the highly sensitive person whose psyche becomes over-burdened. Here are the ways in which the two conditions match:

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Fibromyalgia is NOT a ‘Disease’! Manual therapists to “help”?

“Names are not always what they seem”, Mark Twain

How to go about convincing experts and the general population that fibromyalgia is not a disease, but a Medically Unexplained Syndrome (MUS)? It is in fact, a dis-ease. It is mysterious in the ways in which it exhibits itself with a vast array of features, but the cause can be explained as an uneasy central nervous system! What is implied in that name? Generally it is ‘sore all over’. Fibromyalgia is a compilation of various symptoms such as pain, fatigue, itching, depression, digestive upsets and such a variety of psycho-social- biological challenges that are almost too numerous to cite. The onset :  occurs in a highly sensitive, anxious person, with a chronically hyper-aroused nervous system, the fearful amygdala of the brain in hyper-vigilant mode, and generally, but not exclusively, is brought on after a traumatic event, such as an accident or surgery, divorce or the death of a loved one and especially such traumatic events as wars.. Its twin is PTSD. Over time muscles and subsequently joints become increasingly painful and the quality of life suffers.

Is there a type of person more prone to fibro? Well, an anxious personality is a predisposing factor. Whether or not it is a personality trait that one is born with or acquired is up for debate. The person is a ‘type’, but not all anxious persons have fibromyalgia, however the opposite is true, that is, those with fibromyalgia have a history of anxiety. The mind and the body cannot be separated and are together joined forever. It is not a ‘curable’ dis-ease, but there is life after the diagnosis. So let us lighten up a bit for a few seconds! Bright flamingos should bring a smile to our faces, even if it is temporary ( I took this picture in Paris two years ago. These flamingoes did not have fibromyalgia). The more we smile the more the nervous system tells the brain there isn’t any danger, so relax and breathe. FIBROMYALGIA IS NOT LIFE THREATENING. But, it IS challenging! What is to be done for relief?

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Fibromyalgia: Living with Chronic Pain

“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on”, Robert Frost

I have frequently cited the works of adiemusfree from her HealthSkills Blog. She has become my guru for updates on research regarding pain. I take hope because of her personal struggles with the issues surrounding living  with acceptance in lieu of catastrophising. Daily pain is exhausting, depletes our energy, leaves us with a sense of hopelessness. Each new symptom (and there are many) can be like taking one step forward and two backward. How do we continue? As she says in her October 18/15 blog: “After all, life doesn’t stop just because pain is a daily companion”. The same could be said of the other myriad of symptoms we experience.

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Fibromyalgia and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

“After a traumatic experience, the human system of self-preservation seems to go into permanent alert, as if the danger might return at any moment” , Judith Lewis Herman

There has been a great deal of public awareness of late regarding the concept of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It seems as though the syndrome has become somewhat commonplace and many are quick to self diagnose. But, even more are recognizing that the condition is one caused by great stress and chronic anxiety and there are commonalities among us in our responses to traumatic experiences. What was once associated with abuse, now is believed to be the result of many occurrences that bring about dramatic memories, which in turn trigger danger to an overly stimulated nervous system. With the relatively recent wars in the Middle East whereby PTSD among veterans became all too common, public awareness has been heightened. In my book I discussed fibromyalgia in relation to what was then becoming known as Gulf War Syndrome, now it is more specifically known as PTSD that is capturing the attention of the experts. In the first world war it was known as shell shock. In the second world war it became known as battle fatigue, finally it is now more appropriately labelled as PTSD. Many of these veterans with PTSD have fibromyalgia, in fact I speculated then (and do so now) that they are one and the same thing. I will acknowledge there is the possibility that they are somewhat separate but akin to identical twins. The symptoms are identical.

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Fibromyalgia: the overmedicated ‘patient’

“America is one of the few advanced nations that allow direct advertising of prescription drugs, Robert Reich

BigPharma makes huge profits from those of us suffering from chronic pain, fatigue, depression, anxiety,  itching, digestive issues- to name a few of the common symptoms of fibromyalgia. Every day we are inundated with advertisements about prescription drugs that would alleviate these symptoms. Equally as rich is the vitamin industry which advocates specific supplements for the treatment of fibromyalgia, few of which are science based. Generally we take them willy nilly without any idea if they are helpful or not.

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Fibromyalgia and Trauma Memory

” Most of us have unhealthy thoughts and emotions that have either developed as a result of trauma or hardships in their childhood, or the way they were raised”, Steven Seagal

mindfulscientific american 001It would seem that those of us with fibromyalgia have developed the condition at an early age which may have taken a tremendous shock, accident, or crisis to bring about a full blown fibromyalgia. Some of us  have had repeated crises in our sensitive lives and  did not even experience a single unusual occurrence for the syndrome to develop. Nonetheless, we are a group of people with specific personality traits that allow us to dwell on trauma that seems to be stuck in our minds/brains reactivating the experience more frequently than  is healthy. So, how in fact can we find ways to train the brain to refocus away from past trauma? The work of Dr. Richie Davidson, neuroscientist, has presented us with the  interesting option  of “spending as little as 30 minutes per day training our minds to do something different” (p.52 Mindful August 214) which can result in changing the brain. To that end I had decided that quilting was not the answer as I had previously tried that and not had much success (see blog Fibromyalgia and Multitasking, May 17, 2009). Instead I would try my hand at writing about personal issues.

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Fibromyalgia and our memories, our brains

” Our memory is in large part the starting point for how we think, how our preferences form, and how we make decisions”, Maria Konnikova

Several weeks ago on CBC radio when I heard an interview with Dr. Konnikova regarding the science of memory , I became intrigued with the ways in which she has based an understanding of neuroscience upon the brains and memories of two fictional characters- Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. Being a Holmes lover and extremely interested in how the brain works- as my readers will well know from my many blogs, I hastened to read this amazing book regarding these two distinct minds which she dubs the brain attics. This term she pilfers from Holmes who said: “I consider a man’s [sic] brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose” (cited in Konnikova, p. 26).

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Medications, Medications and more Medications: Fibromyalgia Medicalized

“Doctors are men who prescribe medicine of which they know little, to cure diseases of which they know less, in human beings of whom they know nothing”,Voltaire

Those of us with chronic conditions are constantly seeking relief from the myriad of symptoms that make our lives very challenging. Pain, fatigue, lack of physical abilities, sleep disturbances, depression, rashes, to name but a few of the minor to serious struggles with which we are faced lead us to desperately wanting relief in the form of medications. Living with any one of the daily distressing symptoms affects our quality of life and it is little wonder that we seek help in the form of chemicals to help us get through the day. Many, in fact, are essential to our conditions without which we could not survive. Others are prescribed from the sheer frustration of physicians who want to help but medical answers to many perplexing conditions are not yet available to them. Such is the case with fibromyalgia. What to do with a patient who has chronic pain but to prescribe a pain medication, that may or may not help? If the patient cannot sleep there is a solution: sleep medication. Depression and anxiety? Medications for altering moods.The list of medications for all sorts of conditions is limitless. Pharmaceutical companies are big booming businesses whose profits know no bounds.Physicians could not possibly remember the vast array of information that the drug reps tell them about their efficacy or that they learn about on line. More to the point ‘new’ diseases and conditions are constantly being ‘discovered’ for which new drugs must be invented. Read : The Medicalization of Everyday Life by Thomas Szasz, a psychiatrist, whose work in mental illness was compulsory reading for me as a medical sociology student in graduate school, many years ago.

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Fibromyalgia: An argument against being mentally ‘ill’

” My friend…care for your psyche…know thyself, for once we know ourselves, we may learn how to care for ourselves”, Socrates

Fibromyalgia does not allow for any kind of scientific tests to aid in making the diagnosis of the syndrome. It is not a disease, but a broad spectrum of ‘symptoms’ which appear to be somewhat universal, that is, primarily pain, fatigue, sleeplessness and often depression.

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Is Fibromyalgia a ‘Psychosomatic’ Disorder?

155643233x_01__sx140_sy225_sclzzzzzzz_” Trust one who has gone through it”, Virgil

Writing those words, in fact, even thinking about the title makes me feel uncomfortable! Who wants to be labeled as one whose pain is thought to be “JUST in your head” implying it is not real? But, before we go off into a tailspin about that specific demeaning-sounding word, I should begin by saying what I now believe psychosomatic to mean. It certainly does not suggest that those of us with fibromyalgia  are hysterics who malinger just to get attention. But, maybe, just maybe, our pain is caused by emotions that are unconsciously deep seated, trapped in past trauma and ARE in our head (brain).  Such emotions as anger, sadness, anxiety, fear, rage  and others can be kept in a closed segment of our minds without taking them out to examine and work with consciously. After all, pain perceptions come from our body’s nociceptors, funneled up to the brain. Psychosomatic does not mean the pain is not real, but that pain comes from the brain in the stored memories.

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